Byronic hero


A kind of hero found in several of the works of Lord Byron. Like Byron himself, a Byronic hero is a melancholy and rebellious young man, distressed by a terrible wrong he committed in the past.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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What is a Byronic hero?

A Byronic hero is a type of fictional character who is a moody, brooding rebel, often one haunted by a dark secret from his past. The term describes the type of main character found in many fictional works by Lord Byron, who is said to have had this type of personality.

Lord Byron (1788–1824) was an English poet famous for his works of fiction, as well as his scandalous personal life.

Byronic heroes are typically the protagonists, or main characters, of whatever story they appear in, and this is what’s meant by hero in the phrase—the story’s main character. The label Byronic hero has traditionally been applied only to male characters.

Byronic hero is used in the discussion of literature to describe a type of character that appears not just in the works of Byron himself but also in many other works of fiction. This makes the character an archetype (a type of character that recurs in all kinds of stories).

What are characteristics of a Byronic hero?

Lord Byron was once famously described by a lover as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” and that reputation gives you a pretty good understanding of the Byronic hero—he’s a classic bad boy. The first character considered a Byronic hero (or at least the first one written by Byron) is the protagonist of Byron’s 1812 poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Byron went on to write about similarly brooding characters in works like Don Juan, The Corsair, and Manfred. But although Byron popularized this archetype—and it’s named after him—the roots of it are older, and its legacy extends to today’s media.

Byronic heroes are characterized by having several particular traits. They may be angry, rebellious, seductive, and struggling with vices. They usually have high intelligence and emotional awareness—which tends to make them brood and be outsiders from society. And the Byronic hero is often tortured by guilt or a secret from his past.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is sometimes considered a Byronic hero, as are some of the heroes of the Gothic literature of the late 1700s. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights has Heathcliff, and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre has Rochester, both often-cited examples of classic Byronic heroes. But Byronic heroes aren’t confined to novels of the 1800s. Modern stories are full of examples. Take Batman, for example, who’s always wearing all black, brooding away in the Batcave, haunted by the murder of his parents, and acting outside the rules of society.

The Byronic hero is sometimes discussed alongside the antihero archetype, referring to a hero who lacks classical heroic traits, like courage and noble intentions. A Byronic hero may sometimes be an antihero, but an antihero doesn’t have to be Byronic.

Determining which characters are Byronic heroes isn’t always so easy. For example, is Kylo Ren of the Star Wars series a Byronic hero? An antihero? Just a straight-up villain? The truth is that it’s really up to your interpretation as the viewer or reader. Labels like Byronic hero are intended not just as a way to sort characters into categories but also as a tool to help us make sense of what we’re reading or watching.

Did you know ... ?

Byron was the inspiration for more than one literary archetype. The Vampyre (1819) by John Polidori (Byron’s personal doctor) features the first aristocratic, charismatic vampire in modern fiction—and he was probably based partly on Lord Byron.

What are some real-life examples of Byronic hero?

For a quick and dirty look at the Byronic hero, check out this video of classic  Byronic heroes from movies.

 

What other words are related to Byronic hero?

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following characteristics is typical of a Byronic hero?

A. cheerful demeanor
B. easy-going personality
C. rebelliousness against social conventions
D. silly sense of humor